'BrainDead' ties Washington dysfunction to alien conspiracy

Brain-eating alien bugs might just be the cause for Washington's partisan gridlock.

The producers of "The Good Wife" have an unorthodox explanation for partisan gridlock in Washington: Brain-eating alien bugs that appear right after a blazing meteor.

That's the unusual concept behind "BrainDead." It mashes up the kind of political and media satire that series creators Robert and Michelle King have an ear for, along with touches of "Little Shop of Horrors," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and (given the occasional exploding head) "Scanners."

The Kings deserve points for the sheer audacity of the premise -- it sure isn't cookie cutter. But "BrainDead" is too scattered to register as a coherent indictment of Washington.

There are, admittedly, some sly and amusing references in the first three episodes. They include fictional talk shows clearly designed to invoke Rachel Maddow and Megyn Kelly, a government shutdown, and a guy's head actually erupting in the midst of a shouting match on cable news.

The people under alien control, meanwhile, are only slightly off-kilter. For starters, they give up drinking, and exhibit a sudden fondness for the Cars song "You Might Think." Tony Shalhoub plays one of the taken-over senators, which is pretty inspired casting.

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Still, even after three reasonably diverting hours it's hard to see where any of this is going.

The show stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel Healy, an aspiring documentary filmmaker who grudgingly takes a job in the office of her brother Luke (Danny Pino), a powerful U.S. senator. But Laurel is soon serving as the conduit to a Republican lawmaker via one of his aides, Gareth (Aaron Tveit), where there's an instant spark, even if the two probably shouldn't talk politics.

That romantic-comedy backdrop, however, bumps somewhat uncomfortably into the sci-fi aspects of the plot, in which the bugs (that resemble ants) infiltrate people's heads and take over their brains.

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Laurel can discern that "something weird is going on." A constituent, for example, complains that her spouse "is not my husband anymore," then goes all "Stepford Wives," saying everything's swell.

Yet if the master plan is to bring us to our knees via lack of legislative compromise, that's at best a supposition. Fortunately, Laurel isn't the only one who suspects there's oddness afoot. A brilliant nerd named Gustav (Johnny Ray Gill) soon begins investigating a friend's death, which is suspicious given the whole spontaneously combusting head problem.

"BrainDead" is one of those flyers that a network can take during the summer, and CBS no doubt had a heightened willingness to do so because "The Good Wife" was such an extraordinary show.

The Kings clearly have something to say about modern politics, and the sense things could only have become this dysfunctional if some invisible force was responsible. "BrainDead" may not be strange enough to make your head explode, but it is a real head-scratcher.


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